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Remembering the Miracle of 1989

Thirty years ago this month, a series of peaceful demonstrations in Eastern Europe set off a chain of events that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Looking back, it is now clear that Europe experienced a miracle in 1989: the story could have had a much darker and bloodier ending.

STOCKHOLM – This month marks 30 years since Europe – and human civilization generally – began to undergo a miraculous transformation that is now etched in the world’s memory. By the summer of 1989, the Soviet Union was already in terminal decline. The only question was whether communism would disintegrate peacefully, or amid an explosion of violence and devastation.

In the Soviet Union itself, Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika had opened the floodgates of change, but Gorbachev still seemed to believe that the communist system could be salvaged through reform. Meanwhile, on the periphery of the Soviet empire, many feared that a potential collapse of the system would bring Red Army tanks back into streets and city squares. Memories of Soviet crackdowns in Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, and Prague in 1968 remained vivid, as did the severe repression of the Baltic states in the run-up to World War II.

Born in terror, the Soviet Union had been sustained by jackboots and secret police. Nobody knew if it could survive without resorting to brute force once again. It was a nervous time for Europe.

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